May 8, 2003 – There could be a breakthrough next week in the wall of silence surrounding Government House since Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced on April 24 that the territory is going broke.
Senate President David Jones said on Thursday that the governor has told him he will call a special legislative session to examine the government's finances "soon, very soon," perhaps as early as next week. Jones said the governor is "still meeting with the private sector and the unions, and may "notify me next week."
Two Committee of the Whole sessions already are scheduled for next week — Tuesday night on St. Croix and Wednesday night on St. Thomas. Jones scheduled them both as hearings to take testimony on a bill creating a V.I. Tourism Authority.
Jones noted that "the governor may call a special session of the Legislature whenever he chooses." The seven days' advance notice required for a regular session "does not apply," he said.
The governor and his financial team met with about eight business leaders on Monday at Government House. Some 15 business people, including those who had met with Turnbull, held their own meeting on Tuesday night. According to one individual who attended both meetings, the business group is in the process of developing a series of recommendations the members feel could be implemented to improve the fiscal condition of the territory.
Jones said the government fiscal officers will be present at the Senate special session. "Whatever decisions we make, we have to make them quickly," he said.
The Senate minority couldn't agree more.
Any time since Jan. 13 would have been fine with the Minority Caucus. Minority leader Raymond "Usie" Richards first tried on that date to initiate a Committee of the Whole meeting with the government's fiscal officers present to answer questions. The group has been trying fruitlessly since then to get Jones to call such a session.
On Wednesday, the Minority Caucus delivered a letter to Turnbull, Jones and Territorial Court Presiding Judge Maria Cabret once again requesting a meeting. The letter calls for the appearance of a small army of administration financial officials, including the directors of the Economic Development Authority, Public Finance Authority and Port Authority, along with bond counsels.
Turnbull's recent admission "that our government is in economic failure demanded immediate action," the letter says. It adds: "Our repeated requests made to the Senate president to convene a Committee of the Whole meeting seem to have fallen on deaf ears." The letter asked that "hearings be convened to finally assess the current financial status" of the government.
Suggestions for cutting costs get no response
Richards wrote to Turnbull, Jones and Cabret on April 28 with 25 suggestions from the minority bloc for reducing government costs. That letter got no response, Richards said Thursday. (See "Senate minority proposes 25 cost-cutting steps".)
In Wednesday's letter, the minority has requested myriad documents and records including a list of all government hires since last November and their positions and pay; and a list of all government buildings, properties, and lease agreements.
To date, Jones said on Thursday, the 25-member, all-government team Turnbull appointed to propose cost-cutting and revenue-generating measures has remained as mum as Government House itself. "We have met and discussed different options," Jones said, and the governor "will make a determination soon."
With none of those "options" having been made public, speculation has mounted throughout the community about what is going on. Turnbull's announcement having been made three days before the start of the final week of V.I. Carnival, the crisis got moved to the back burner during last week's festivities. But now it's business as usual, and radio talk shows are filled with queries about where the territory stands and what is being done about it.
Government House had no response to the latest minority letter on Thursday; a spokesperson said only that she had not yet seen it.
Documentation of spending sought
The minority requested the following information for a Committee of the Whole session:
– A list of all new personnel including date of hire, salary, and position/title since November 2002 within all three branches of government.
– A list of all personal and professional service contracts for the three branches of government.
– A list of all government buildings, properties, and lease and rental agreements along with their associated costs.
– Cellular phone contracts and payment history to date for the three branches of government.
– Copies of all Government Travel Requests processed by the Finance Department, the Legislature and the Territorial Court for travel outside of the territory.
– A list of all government-owned vehicles.
– A list of all vehicles purchased by the three branches of government since Jan. 1, 2002.
– Gasoline consumption by district for the three branches of government.
– A list of vacant positions in the Corrections Bureau, Fire Service, hospitals, and Education, Health, Human Services and Police Departments.
– A list of all vacant positions that are federally funded.
– The total per diem payments issued by the Finance Department for Fiscal Year 2002.
– A list of Economic Development Commission beneficiaries.
– A list of Public Works Department roadside cleaning contracts.
– A copy of the Planning and Natural Resources Department's "State Energy Program Territorial Plan."
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